HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Local gun dealers and owners are reacting to President Barack Obama’s executive order that aims to expand background checks at gun shows.
Thousands travel to Harrisburg’s Farm Show Complex every February for the Great American Outdoor Show, the largest of its kind. The event is backed by the National Rifle Association and has firearms throughout the show. However, not one gun is sold on site.
Dauphin County Commissioner Jeff Haste was instrumental in resurrecting the outdoor show after the previous organizer, Reed, banned “assault-style” guns following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Haste said the NRA was adamant about not allowing guns to be sold at the show.
“You don’t get the gun there,” he said. “They’ll give you a slip, then have to go to a licensed dealer.”
Even winners in the show’s “Wall of Guns” display, which raffles off guns, must be accompanied by a background check, Haste said. The commissioner is a proud member of the NRA and an avid hunter. He said Obama did little to curb violence or crack down on illegal gun purchases.
“There is nothing that they are proposing that will directly address that,” he said.
About a dozen gun shows are scheduled for the Midstate in 2016. The President’s executive order would require all dealers to be federally licensed and conduct background checks with every gun sale. This, he said, would be closing the so-called “gun show loophole.”
“There is no gun show loophole,” gun shop owner Joseph Staudt said.
Staudt, who often sells at gun shows, said the term is somewhat of a myth. He said the majority of dealers at gun shows have a federal firearms license. Anyone with an FLL must conduct a background check.
Staudt said even private sellers must do a background check for handgun sales. However, shotguns and rifles typically used in hunting do not require a background check.
“Do we want to make every hunter who wants to swap his rifle with his buddy get a background check?” Staudt questioned. “I guess that’s something we’re going to have to decide.”
Staudt said private sellers who do not conduct a background check are still responsible for selling a firearm to a convicted criminal, known or not.
“You can still be held liable for that,” he said. “There is some risk in doing that.”
Staudt said Pennsylvania’s firearm background check is stronger than the federal government’s. He said besides felonies and violent misdemeanors, he said domestic disputes and DUI convictions with a .20 blood alcohol level or higher ban people from purchasing a new gun. He clarified the government won’t take away guns in most cases, but the offenses would be flagged in a background check.
Staudt said there is a fraction of crimes that involve guns purchased from a private seller at a gun show. He believes most gun purchases used in daily street crimes are done illegally or either stolen.
“Criminals are going to obtain their firearms usually in the underworld, if you will, by stealing them or getting them from another criminal,” he said.
Staudt said background checks do not flag individuals with a history of mental illness, which he believes is a more telling factor of those connected to mass shootings. According to the New York Times, the majority of guns used in the past 15 mass shootings in America were purchased legally.
Haste believes the President’s action does more harm than good. He believes Obama is pinning pro-gun and anti-gun groups against each other instead of asking responsible gun owners how to better achieve safety without harming the Second Amendment.
“The sooner we get our focus off the means of which the crime is committed and get to the root cause of it, I think we’ll all be in a better place,” he said.